Last week, two things happened in Wakefield, Massachusetts that at least temporarily restored my hope for America’s self-image.
First, Paul D. Wedge, a lacrosse coach at Wakefield High School, convinced the Board of Selectmen to let him mount a bronze cast with Big Jim Landrigan’s Silver Star Citation at Landrigan Field where future generations of Wakefield students can see what it means to be a true American hero.
James M. Landrigan, a 1941 Wakefield High School graduate, was captain of the football and track teams. He served with the Marines in World War II and re-enlisted when the Korean War broke out. He received the Silver Star, the third highest award given by the United States military for heroism, for actions he took in Korea on July 20-21, 1953 while under persistent and relentless enemy fire on his company’s position.
Also last week, the selectmen approved the World War II Memorial Committee’s recommendation that the Upper Common be henceforth known as “Veteran’s Memorial Common.”
Committee chairman Phyllis Hull pointed out that this area of the Common is where the new World War II Memorial and Veterans’ Walk of Remembrance will be located. This section of the Common is also home to memorials to veterans of other wars, including the Civil War, World War I and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“It is fitting,” Hull maintained, “that this area be recognized as the Veterans’ Memorial Common as a tribute to those brave men and women who have served and are serving our country.”
Just as Wedge emphasized the educational value of placing Landrigan’s plaque at the field that bears his name, members of the World War II Memorial Committee have from the very beginning stressed the new Monument’s value as a teaching tool for educating local kids and the community about the accomplishments of America’s military heroes.
There was a time when appreciation for America and the role of its war heroes was a given, at least in our own country. But sometimes it seems that that appreciation is waning.
At one time, all students willingly said the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school. Even if it became a rote exercise after awhile, it was still a gentle reminder of the importance of their country and the principals “for which it stands.”
Nowadays, students are given the “option” of not reciting the Pledge if doing so would make them “uncomfortable.” Recently, we’ve even seen communities try to ban the Pledge altogether from schools. In Dover, New Hampshire last week, a boy got in trouble for bringing an American flag to school. School officials insisted that it was because the stick could be a weapon and that the reprimand had nothing to do with patriotism or the American flag.
Schools used to be where you learned good things about your country. Now, the emphasis is on the self-image of each individual student. Our collective self-image as a nation? Not so much.
History textbooks that once presented the United States in a favorable light are now deemed “whitewashed” texts that “indoctrinated blind patriotism.” But if we don’t give ourselves the benefit of the doubt who will?
Today, school textbooks seem to have drifted increasingly in the direction of questioning and criticizing the American model of freedom. This is deemed a “balanced” approach to history. More than a few US public schools now use “A People’s History of the United States,” by radical professor Howard Zinn, a harsh critic of the United States. Whatever happened to Henry Steele Commager?
Maybe the way some of us were taught about American exceptionalism was a tad over the top. But nowadays, the pendulum seems to have swung to the opposite extreme. America’s flaws are magnified to the point where kids don’t even want to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school.
So it was heartening to see the two gestures last week, memorializing Col. James M. Landrigan and all the other heroes who believed in America and the values “for which it stands.”
[This column originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]
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